In a market becoming crowded with new vegan launches, how do you stand out? By offering ambient products, says Eric Woods, managing director of Worldwide Food Associates, who is bringing US brand Loma Linda to the UK. Its products include what is set to be the UK’s first tuna alternative, called Tuno, as well as range of vegan ready meals. They are set to hit shelves at the end of the month.
“That’s the real point of difference,” Woods tells Food Spark .“The growth we are seeing in the UK in terms of plant-based products is all in frozen or chilled products and ours are all ambient. You can buy our tuna and treat it exactly as you would a can of Princes tuna and it’s there for an unexpected occasion. It doesn’t have to be used within a week, unlike the fresh plant-based products, so we’ve got that benefit for the consumer.”
“The ready meals come in a pouch and can be microwaved in two minutes. There is more to come on that, we have such a library of recipes, and coming behind that is we are looking at being able to mix and match to change the ranges as the retailers see fit, including ingredients to make meals.”
The tuna alternative has been on the US market for the last nine months and is developing well, says Woods. In fact, in the last five weeks it has outsold standard tuna on the US Amazon. He comments there are contributing factors to that, like standard tuna can be brought anywhere whereas Tuno isn’t available across the country, but he is pleased by the achievement.
“The interesting thing is it’s not just vegans who are taking up this product. It’s the meat reducers, flexitarians, people who dip in and out of veganism or have meat as treat, so this is not a product just for vegans,” he says.
Seasoning and snacking
Tuno was conceived due to concerns around the sustainability of the fishing industry, along with demands for a fish alternative, and took around 18 months to develop. It’s made with soy, seaweed and a flavour to mimic the tuna taste, while the mouthfeel and texture have been developed to be similar to tuna, according to Woods.
It launches in the UK in five flavours: spring water, mayonnaise, lemon and pepper, sweet chilli and sesame and ginger. Spring water was an obvious choice as people like to make their own dressings, while mayonnaise and lemon and pepper are traditional flavours that are popular in the UK, explains Woods.
“Then there is a growing interest in adding a bit of heat and everyone likes a sweet chilli so we decided a sweet chilli dressing would be a great partner with a our tuna product and the final one is sesame and ginger. There is massive growth in the UK market in Oriental flavours,” he says.
Woods goes so far as to suggest a katsu curry and Japanese teriyaki could be added to the Tuno flavour stable.
While there are no plans to branch into other seafood alternatives, Woods reveals they are launching Tuno in a smaller format in the US and soon the UK. Currently it’s available in 145g, but the company wants to target convenience and snacking, creating an 85g version that comes with crackers and can be eaten “on the hoof” or at a desk.
Plant-based ready meals are also being introduced by Loma Linda with six SKUs consisting of tikka masala, spicy pad Thai, hearty beef stew, Thai green curry, Thai red curry and a chipotle bowl similar to chilli con carne.
There are plans to extend the range as well with inspiration potentially coming from Japan, South America and Mexico, says Woods.
Over in the US, it also has an ambient meat alternative product that comes in powder form. People add water and then mould the mix into the shape of say, a meatball or burger patty. Woods is looking to bring the product to the UK in the middle of the year, with work currently happening on the packaging and how to best educate people on it.
Looking to the plant-based future, he predicts that technology will continue to improve the texture of protein alternatives and there will be a steady growth in consumers adopting the lifestyle, whether for animal welfare, health or environmental factors.
“In the UK, there are about two and half to three million vegans and I think that number is going to double in the next five to 10 years and around 14-15% of the population are flexitarians and that is going to increase remarkably,” he says.